2021 in the Meadows Part 1

Over the course of this year I have accumulated so many photos that I wanted to include in a round up of the meadows’ best bits. But I’ve had to be firm with myself and edit them down to make things more manageable. Here is the result – my favourites from the first part of 2021. 

The Old Gentleman

The Old Gentleman Fox first arrived here in the autumn of 2020 and quickly became an enthusiastic consumer of the nightly peanuts. To begin with, he waited unseen on the cliff path but soon ventured closer.

So much so that, as the months rolled on, I started to wear wellies to deliver the peanuts because otherwise he had a tendency to nibble the bottom of my trousers which was very disconcerting.

But he was beset by problems – firstly carrying a hind paw, then a forepaw, he had bad eyes, a cough and, finally, a devastating attack of mange.

Carrying a front paw and losing the fur on his legs
Starting to get very frail. By this point he had begun waiting for me up by the house at dusk which wound the dog up a treat. In fact, in desperation, I was also giving him some of the dog’s meat along with the peanuts to try to keep him going while the mange treatment had a chance to work
One evening he was waiting at the back door and came in when I opened it

I repeatedly consulted the Fox Project charity for advice and did my best for him, giving him worm and mange treatments and whatever else they suggested. But ultimately it was not enough and we lost him.

The lovely Old Gentleman. RIP July 2021

Chuckles the Herring Gull

Another prominent personality from this year is thankfully still going strong. Chuckles is the male half of a pair of Herring Gulls that we got to know as we put seed down at the feeding cages every day. Watching them through the year has taught us that there is much to appreciate about these characterful birds.

Chuckles the Herring Gull in his full glory

The female of the pair was colour-ringed and so we were able to discover that she was ringed at Pitsea landfill site in Essex in January 2015 when she was around four years old. This means that she is now eleven or twelve years old.

These two gulls formed a very tight pair bond although Chuckles was much the braver and more vocal and often making his chuckling call.

Chuckles and wife

The dog objected to him strutting around the feeding cages as though he owned the place and she would sometimes chase and bark at him. This was very entertaining because he retaliated by dive bombing her:

Dog about to be dive bombed from above by Chuckles

The birds were good enough to mate in front of the camera which helped us to be certain that Chuckles was the male:

The colour-ringed female then started to gather nesting material and shortly afterwards more or less disappeared – presumably because she was on eggs. Chuckles, however, still waited for us every morning as usual.

The female gathering nesting material

Towards the end of the summer, we were delighted to meet Chuckles’ offspring when they both started arriving each morning:

Chuckles and his chick

Chuckles is now in his winter plumage with greyish speckled neck feathers:

Ever since she disappeared to go and sit on eggs, the female has made only occasional visits and always on her own. But I hope that she will return properly next spring and once again join up with Chuckles.

I love this atmospheric photo in the fog

February Snow

In mid February there was a bitter spell of weather and snow lay on the ground for several days.

Badger out in the snow

We became aware that the exceptional weather had brought different birds to the meadows and were interested to observe them:

Sitting on the deer stalking seat to try to photograph the unusual birds in the second meadow. There was a hot water bottle shoved up his coat to keep him warm
A flock of Meadow Pipit were pecking around the tussocks of grass sticking out from the snow in the rougher reptile area
Several Snipe stayed for up to a week
A few Woodcock were also here along with a Lapwing (sadly no photo of this bird)

The Snipe and the Lapwing were new species for the meadow bird list. The other four new species this year were Common Gull, Sand Martin, Reed Bunting and Curlew, bringing the total to ninety-one.

On particularly cold nights throughout the winter, a Wren roosted up in a teapot nest box in the garden. Here the Wren is, leaving just before dawn one morning:

Frog Spawning

It feels like the spectacle of the annual frog spawning in February is the inaugural event in our natural history year.

A male frog in position, awaiting the arrival of a female
The distinctive white throats of the males. Many of them will have overwintered at the bottom of the pond, so that they can be in position and ready for when the females, their bellies already swollen with spawn, arrive at the pond
This female, with her enormous tummy, has been flipped over onto her back by two over-enthusiastic males. But now she is in trouble because they won’t let go and she is stuck like this
A male, still waiting, but now on top of a mass of lovely fertilised spawn

Now that we have sorted out the Heron problem with the tactical placement of our scarecrow, the frogs seemed to have a good year with a lot of spawn laid and then successfully hatched into tadpoles.

Nesting Birds

In March, winter-visiting Starlings always gather in the meadows, readying themselves for the flight across the North Sea back to mainland Europe to breed.

For the first time this year we noticed all the beak holes in the ground where they probe for soil invertebrates.

But for the last two years, several pairs of British resident Starling have chosen the meadows to raise their families. We are delighted with this, hoping it is a sign of improving habitat.

Gathering a feather for her nest
A few weeks later and juvenile Starling are appearing on the cameras

Crow Wars broke out in the skies above the meadows at the start of the breeding season. Every day there were noisy confrontations as encroaching Crows tried to muscle in on the territory of our resident pair. At one point I dashed out to rescue a bird that was pinned to the ground and surrounded. But I couldn’t be around all of the time and, before too long, we found a dead Crow on the ground.

We put a camera on the dead Crow and saw that other Crows revisited the scene of the crime several times

This death seemed to have resolved the matter irrevocably and the victorious pair went on to build their nest on the top of a tall tree.

Gathering nesting material from a cage that we stuffed full of wool

A number of species made use of the wool dispenser including this little Wren:

Three or four years of putting seed down daily on the strip and we are pleased to report that quite a flock of Yellowhammer has built up with several pairs nesting here this year:

The Bird Ringers ringed nine Yellowhammer in the meadows in 2020 and another eight in 2021
Not all of these birds are Yellowhammer but most of them are. The largest number photographed at one time this year was seventeen

A pair of Grey Partridge were in the meadows until about July although we haven’t seen them since. I do hope that they made a nest in a local hedgerow but sadly I have no evidence of that. Maybe we will see them again next spring.

Magpies successfully nested at the top of one of the pine trees.

Taking wet mud for the nest

They were also observed robbing other birds’ nests of eggs and chicks.

Magpie with bird egg

Blackbirds were very conspicuous nesters this year. The females have sole responsibility for making the nest and I had so very many great photos of them doing this.

We also saw a Song Thrush collecting wet mud from the pond for her nest:

Another species that we were happy to get evidence of nesting this year was Linnet:

Linnet gathering feathers following a Sparrowhawk kill

This year we forgot to put bungs into the Swift box holes. By the time the Swifts were due to arrive back in the country, we found that every Swift box already had House Sparrows nesting within:

House Sparrow peering out of a Swift box

We decided to rapidly put two new boxes up because we were really hoping that 2021 would be our lucky year and Swifts would surely nest. In the event, however, poor weather dramatically delayed the Swifts’ arrival and, by the time they did finally get here, the new boxes also had House Sparrows nests.

Swifts flying by the boxes

As in previous years, the Swift calls that we were playing brought the birds into the vicinity of the boxes very successfully. But we didn’t see one stop to look in a box and there was certainly no nesting. Maybe next year….

Other Interesting Photos From The First Half Of The Year

At the end of February we saw this lizard warming up on a sampling square. We were amazed how it had flattened its body to expose the largest possible amount of skin to the sun
Always a rare treat to see a Tawny Owl in the meadows
A Siskin in March
The Turtle Dove strip being rotavated in March for our fourth year of Operation Turtle Dove. We spread RSPB-supplied seed for eight weeks from the beginning of May in an attempt to encourage Turtle Doves to stop and breed here. Unfortunately we are still yet to see one of these birds in the meadows.
The resident badgers had a very quiet year and no cubs appeared above ground in April. However, they did dig two new tunnel entrances that opened up directly into the meadows rather than onto the cliff. This has made it much easier for us to watch their comings and goings
Tawny Mining Bees are the most lovely of bees and in April we found several of their nests in the ground. We have got our eye in now and will be watching out for them next year
Sparrowhawk with fully plucked bird prey. All a bit scary
In April there were lots of signs of Song Thrushes using stone anvils to break open snail shells and get at the meat inside
We often see rats on the trail cameras but the population always seems to stay in control. In this photo, the rodent’s eyes look like drops of liquid
Fox with rat. This might be one of the reasons rat numbers stay low
In autumn 2020 we found a Wasp Spider egg cocoon in the long grass. We kept an eye on it over the winter and, by the end of May, it was filled with Wasp Spiderlings
In May there was a single Early Spider Orchid growing in the garden lawn

May is such a wonderful month in the meadows. I finish today with this carpet of May buttercups that we look forward to every year.

In a few days, I will continue the review of the year with a final post covering the second six months of 2021.

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